Learning German is Easier if You Already Speak English

grimm's law
Photo Credit: University of Oregon

In my article Muslims and the Diversity Jihad I informed my readers that when I first arrived on the blessed shores of this country in 1949 (I was almost 5 years old) I spoke only German. Like very many immigrant children, I learned English very quickly, although for me it was probably a lot easier because I knew German, although at the time I didn't know the reason why.

Years later I studied German language in High School and began to notice some interesting relationships between German and English. More years later at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem I elected to take Linguistics as my minor (as I mentioned in my article Only Arabs Can Truly Be Muslims) where I learned that the Grimm brothers - of Grimms' Fairy Tales fame- were linguists who developed Grimm's law, a set of correspondences between early Greek and Latin consonants and their German equivalences and ultimately their English equivalences. Here are a few examples and how they relate to English:

  • 'D' in Latin → 'Z' in German → 'T' in English:

    decem → zehn → ten

    dingua → zunge → tongue

    So if you speak German and you learn that the word 'zu' means 'to' in English or 'zwölf' means 'twelve,' it's easier to remember that combination if you make the mental translation of 'Z' to 'T' or vice versa.

  • 'S' sound in German → 'T' in English:

    fuß → foot

    es → it

    essen → eat

    großen → great

    wasser → water

  • Words beginning or ending with a 'T' in German begin or end with a 'D' in English:

    tag → day

    tun → do

    tot → dead

  • Taking the example of Tag to Day above, words that end in 'G' in German end in a 'Y' sound in English:

    tag → day

    fliegen → fly

    sagen → say

    weg → way

  • 'K' or 'CH' to 'C':

    kläre → clarify

    kalt → cold (also notice 't' → 'd')

  • buch → book

    elch → elk

    sprechen → speak

  • 'D' → 'Th':

    danke → thanks

    dick → thick

    drei → three

    diesen → this

    erde → earth

  • 'B' inside German words → 'V' or 'F' in English:

    haben → have

    abend → evening

    geben → giving

    dieb → thief (also notice 'd' → 'th')

    halb → half

  • 'F' → 'P':

    offnen → open

    helfen → help

    bischof → bishop

    scharf → sharp

There are hundreds of such German-English cognate sound shifts that can help one memorize German words. And there are similar sound shifts for Russian, Polish, Latvian, Hindu and all other Indo-European languages.

In a related theme, if you are learning English and your native language does not have a 'th' sound as in the words 'this' and 'thin' you can substitute 'v' and 'f' sounds instead; as I wrote in my article My Yemenite Girlfriend:

Older Yemenites have an interesting way of pronouncing the sound B. Sort of similar to the way V is pronounced like a B in Castillion Spanish but with more breath coming out of the closed lips. Yerushalamit spoke normal Israeli Hebrew which means she cannot properly say the soft or hard "TH" sound as in "thanks" or "those". Earlier in our relationship I taught her how to fake it so that American ears could not tell the difference. For example, instead of "thanks" I told her to say "fanks"; instead of "those" she could substitute "vose". As long as English speaking people were not watching her lips closely they would not be able to tell the difference. Try it on your friends and relatives.

### End of my article ###

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